Man, Work, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Occupations

By Sigmund Nosow; William H. Form | Go to book overview

NOTES
1.
Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, New York: Rinehart & Co., 1944, p. 57; Trade and Market in the Early Empires, Glencoe: The Free Press, 1957, p. 68 ff.
2.
Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, translated by A. M. Henderson and T. Parsons, Glencoe: The Free Press, 1947, p. 168 ff.

1. OCCUPATIONS IN THEIR HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ·

Arthur Salz

In modern society, with its characteristic division of labor, specialization of functions, exchange and prevailing ideology, the overwhelming majority of the people engage in a specific, relatively continuous activity in order to earn their livelihood and maintain a definite social status. This activity in the literature of the social sciences is designated as occupation. One need not go as far as Simmel, who believed that the concept of occupation is fundamental to the true society, to perceive that modern society, at least for the time being, is organized on an occupational basis. . . .

The term itself is indefinite as to both meaning and scope; it has a varying intellectual content and emotional associations. In all modern languages it has a number of synonyms, and the range of their meaning indicates how much the specific content of the term has shifted with the succession of historical epochs. Although it merely reflects the continuous changes in the reality to which reference is intended, the linguistic confusion itself becomes an obstacle to effective action by student, legislator, organizer, and administrator. The meaning of the term can definitely be fixed for a short period only. And even with this limitation the term must cover three different sets of facts: technological--the specific manual or mental operations involved in the execution of occupational work; economic--the income yield of an occupation which serves to provide a livelihood; and social--the prestige attaching to a person or group by virtue of occupation. It is this complexity which makes possible a shift of emphasis as historical conditions change; for example, the economic aspect of occupation, which is the most important at present, came to the fore only as late as the medieval town economy; before that work for an income was not regarded as proper, income itself being a function of social status rather than of occupation.

In accordance with current popular and statistical usage occupation may be defined as that specific activity with a market value which an individual continually pursues for the purpose of obtaining a steady flow of income; this activity also determines the social position of the individual. As defined above occupation is linked up closely with the present social and economic system, in which production is for sale and not for use;

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